An Autism College and High School Integration for Educational and Vocational ExcellenceAdobeStock_199364665.jpeg

AACHIEVE seeks to support teachers, families, and students in high school, who are on the autism spectrum, are academically on grade level, and have college/post-secondary education as a goal.

This project originated from concerns about the post-secondary outcomes of individuals on the autism spectrum. Students, schools, and parents devote themselves to achieving a high school diploma and acceptance into college; however, the data indicate that this diligence and support does not necessarily translate into success in college and employment. Both post-secondary school graduation (36% within 8 years, National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, 2011) and employment (58% worked at some point between high school and their early 20s, National Autism Indicators Report, Transition into Young Adulthood, 2015) rates for individuals with autism are low compared to individuals without disabilities and individuals with other disabilities.

The nearly opposing structures and expectations of high school versus college, as well as the differences in guiding legislation (i.e., the entitlement of IDEA versus the eligibility of ADA), contribute to the challenge students experience in adjusting to college and career environments after more than twelve years of structure and learning directed by school and parents.

In order to understand the college and career planning occurring in Pennsylvania schools, in 2016, we began our work with individual students, their teachers, and families to learn about what supports this group of students were receiving and what information was needed in order to plan effectively for college/post-secondary education. We learned that the following were essential to changing the post-secondary outcomes for students on the autism spectrum:

  • Supports around instructional and assessment materials for self-regulation
  • Self-advocacy/self-awareness
  • Increased participation in and understanding of the IEP and transition planning process
  • An awareness of the differences between high school and college
  • Knowledge across teachers, families, and students about the future college environment for which they were planning

"We make the erroneous assumption that high schools are getting students ready for college, and they're not really. That's not their primary task. High schools do a wonderful job of getting students ready to graduate from high school."  - Dr. Gerard Hoefling


AACHIEVE moved from exploring how to support individual students to helping a school identify the resources, activities, data, and most importantly, the conversations that will help prepare students on the autism spectrum for college and career, rather than just high school graduation. We developed a self-assessment that translated all the topics, skills, strategies, and conversations that we had with those original schools, into items that school teams can use to discuss and assess what they currently are doing around each item, and prioritize steps forward. Please check back to this web page for more information about this self-assessment process.

Please explore the sections within this Project AACHIEVE webpage to learn more about our family and college partnerships, as well as helpful resources.


Works Cited

Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A.-M., Marder, C., Nagle, K., Shaver, D., Wei, X., with Cameto, R., Contreras, E., Ferguson, K., Greene, S., and Schwarting, M. (2011). The Post-High School Outcomes of Young Adults With Disabilities up to 8 Years After High School. A Report From the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) (NCSER 2011-3005). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. Available online at:

Roux, Anne M., Shattuck, Paul T., Rast, Jessica E., Rava, Julianna A., and Anderson, Kristy A. National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood. Philadelphia, PA: Life Course Outcomes Research Program, A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, Drexel University, 2015.